Alasdair Beckett-King: Full Velvet Jacket
One of the great things about the Fringe is the amount of free events, and the comedy circuit is no exception. These events give comedians a chance to test out new material on receptive audiences. I love these work-in-progress events, even if they are, by their nature, very hit-and-miss. Full Velvet Jacket, though, is definitely strong on the hit. Alasdair Beckett-King, or ABK to his faithful followers, is a strangely philosophical comedian from a version of Durham in an alternative timeline, but don't let that phase you. He still loves toast and mocks the French. With a set that takes in the nature of entropy, grammatically correct movie taglines and what promises to be an incredible animated title sequence (once he gets round to finishing it), ABK lets us glimpse his unique viewpoint on the universe.
Pete Strong: Shame
Described as "not exactly comedy," this is an odd but effective mixture of jokes, anecdotes and poetry. Pete Strong reflects on face-burning, head-smacking shame, along with depression, anxiety and other such entertaining titbits. Taking place upstairs at the Duke of Wellington, in a tiny room on the hottest days of the year, "Shame" starts off with an uncomfortable auditory experience only exacerbated by the close confines, and that's before Pete starts talking about his mental health issues. Genuinely funny, affecting and cathartic, this is a powerfully honest one man show. Still a WIP, this looks like it will only get better with time.
Off the Cuff: Crime and Funishment
Improvisation is a very difficult form of comedy to make work, but when it does it's magic. Ask the audience for some random words, create an entire world around them, ba-dalla-dallah, the prestige. Off the Cuff have been running for several years now with a fluctuating line-up, and "Crime and Funishment" is their strongest format. Each show sees one of the team take on the role of Inspector Funishment in a murder mystery live TV show. Previous shows have seen Funishment solve the mysteries of the Elephant in the Zoo and the Cabbage Patch Murders (and solve Brexit at the same time). This time, the words "bouncy" and "cheese" led to a complex web of intrigue and sorcery in the deadly competitive world of dairy produce. Off the Cuff are the very best at the improv game, making stream of consciousness invention seem like a coherent story.
Do the Thing
Two of the five Cuffers are also improvising this fantastic show. Tim Meredith (also of improv troupe Blanket Fort) and Simon Plotkin (last year's excellent "Gerald Galbraith: Troubadour") perform two completely improvised musicals per show, taking the improv comedy challenge to the next level. Just like Cuff, they work off audience suggestions to create an entire story, only this time, through the medium of song. It's not the only improv musical show around in Brighton, but it's the best. Considering they're two big blokes they are gifted at portraying virtually any type of character - you will believe a bearded Scotsman is the ghost of the protagonist's ex-girlfriend. Tim and Simon manage to portray a full cast of characters between them, often taking on four or five characters in the same scene, all of them singing! See it if only for the spectacle of a group hug somehow created by two people. The Mysterious Iain Scott provides the musical accompaniment, while Tim provides the moves. Very funny, with great creativity and a touch of the style of Flight of the Conchords.
For my money, the funniest of the five shows I caught this year. The Fannys are a changing roster of female comedians, although the core group stays the same, including Sarah Charsley (also of "Sex and Pugs and Rocks and LOLs," which I sadly failed to catch this Fringe). The Fannys provide a rapid-fire mix of sketches and ingenious parody songs that take on exclusively female life concerns such as periods, pregnancy and eating a banana in public. Absolutely hilarious and thoroughly disgusting, but with a strong feminist message amongst the silliness and smut, this is an absolute must - especially if you're a man. I want more than 2% of the audience to be male in future. You'll never be able to listen to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" the same way again. Highly recommended.